TN Time

A "city girl" meets country living.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Meet Rudolph Valentino

A new rooster has begun crowing at Bountiful. With a fiery red comb and shimmery black/green tail, Rudolph Valentino lives up to his illustriously alluring namesake. He is adorned like royalty, as Rudy’s gingery feathers appear clear-coated in diamonds. Hard to think a chicken, and a pint-sized bantam at that, could take your breath away.

A noble bloodline propels Rudy; he is a second-generation Bountiful bird. Mystique, his mother, was no stranger to beauty with a tapestry of earth-toned feathers that resembled armor one moment, abstract art the next. Soon after Rudy’s birth, however, Mystique disappeared. So is the way of the wild.

Early this spring, Mystique had about nine babies. When a few perished due to harsh nights or predators, Jerry snatched up the remaining six and housed them safely on the porch with a heat lamp and food. We were oblivious to Rudy’s beauty then. All six chicks were nearly identical and totally adorable. Once they grew large enough to survive with the rest of our free-range flock, Jerry released them during feeding time, hoping they’d jump into the mosh pit of scratchers for a peck. Didn’t exactly happen that way. The chicks panicked and made a beeline for the woods never to be seen again … all except two—Rudy and his Mystique-like sister, Misty. Months later, they remain inseparable. Where he goes, she follows, sometimes mingling briefly with the flock—typically just during feeding—usually cavorting alone, a solitary duo.

Misty has grown up, as has Rudy, who stands taller these days and seems larger than his bantam uncles, leaving us wondering about his paternity. As for his beauty, it snuck up on us. We regularly saw the siblings on the fringe of the pasture, tucking themselves into the back woods, just out of sight. But one day, they must have forgotten to hide, must have grown accustomed to the tall flesh bags that occasionally throw out food. That’s when Rudy’s beauty struck us. We were actually marveling at the intricacies of Misty’s feathers, so much like her mom’s, when the sun shone just right as to bring out the radiance of Señor Valentino. We gasped. Actually gasped … at a chicken! That’s when we named the little heartbreaker. How a little, fluffy black chick can transform into such a colorful creature with enviably great posture is God at His most creative and playful. And just recently, less than a week ago, Rudy found his voice. For the first time, I saw him throw back his red comb and part his beak to crow. He was born here; our only rooster with that pedigree. With his crow, he claimed his birthright. Magnificent.

Watch out, Nigel, Capt. Jack, Barbossa, and Tufty, Rudolph Valentino has come of age.



Monday, September 12, 2011

Nigel's Revenge

Nigel has the best feathers. Of course, he also has the worst attitude. A strapping Silver Laced Wyandotte, Nigel is the fowl equivalent of a British rock star with his black & white “body suit” and abundant bravado. He struts amidst the other birds and his crow is distinctive, a sing song King Kong growl, announcing his dominance to the world, or at least to Bountiful, our 50-acre farm.

Evening is the most dangerous time to collect feathers. Between cast offs from Nigel, ten turkeys, eleven guinea hens, six ducks, and God-only-knows-how-many other chickens, I can gather a dozen or more feathers a day from black, reddish or white to striped, dotted, and everything in between. I have filled three freezer bags for our Choctaw friend, Greg, who uses feathers in his Native art. I’m not sure what it is about dusk that sets Nigel off, but when he starts peeking at me while he pecks and sidestepping in my direction, I am more apt to go with a flight versus fight response.

He’s probably only eight pounds, 10 at the most. So, I am easily fifteen times his size, but on the two occasions when Nigel bumped me on the calf with his breast, oxygen abandoned my lungs as if my assailant were a much larger beast. It did not hurt, but I could tell he meant business. Since then I have been on my guard, keeping an eye on him so he cannot sneak up on me. Nigel is cunning, shrewd, calculating. He acts like he’s pecking at morsels on the ground, and very well may be, but sometimes I forget his eyeballs are on the sides of his head, so when it appears he is looking away, he’s actually got me locked in his sights.

I am no expert on chicken athleticism, but Nigel’s a good runner. He sure seems to be when he’s chasing me. I cannot attest to my own athleticism during these pursuits, I just know there’s a lot of screaming.

The first time Nigel attacked me, I was heading toward our driveway, a third-of-a-mile hike down what seems like Mount McKinley at times. I carried only my backpack purse and a puffed package, which needed mailing. For no reason at all I turned back, just in time to see Nigel running at me full-tilt. I screamed and smacked him with my package. It pushed him back but he quickly rebounded, rushing again. Five times I smacked him, four times he rebounded. He might have tried for a perfect score, but I bolted down the driveway, leaving him at the edge of our house crowing in victory.

There is speculation as to why roosters attack humans. He thinks I’m a rooster. He thinks I’m a hen. Whatever it is, peaceful resolution is clearly not an option. Farmers around here have their own stories. They’ve had to shoot at chickens, hit, kick or nearly drown them, and still, most don’t give up, although the nearly drowned one wandered off into the woods, never to be seen again. For some, it ends in death.

Since the demise of Nancy, Nigel’s female counterpart, we have no other chicken with Nigel’s unique coloring. While our Plymouth Rocks are also black and white, they are more striped while Nigel is ... well, not. With each feather a breathtaking original, Nigel looks hand-painted by God. Considering his combative nature, though, it is perhaps his beauty alone that has saved him from the chopping block. Beauty and bravado; we just love that cocky cock.

But now I’m scared. Or perhaps the word is cautious. I feed our dogs dinner at six o’clock, and sometimes my husband Jerry and I will walk into the far pasture with them, let them run around. Then I’ll come back near the house for a little feather picking. This started when a lady at church asked me to collect a few for her granddaughter. Apparently young girls are wearing feathers in their hair these days. When I learned that our artistic friend also liked feathers, searching for them became my new hobby. I love finding specimens with unique designs and perfect, unruptured barbs. But, thanks to Nigel, my evening excursions are now peppered with a touch of post-traumatic stress.

The danger is greatest while feather picking behind the house. That is Nigel territory. Of course, in his mind, it’s all his, all fifty-point-two acres. But the rear of the house, with its nearby trees and various sheds and out-buildings, offers him protection and opportunities for stealthy ambushes. There are also wonderful feathers to be found in this region of Bountiful.

So, sometime after six, I am usually plodding through the backyard grass, bent at the waist in search of fowl feathers. I carry a bag for my glorious collection and a walking stick, to fend off my foe. Every few seconds I check left, then check right, looking for Nigel. Where is he? Is he close? Is he watching me?

I’ll pick up white feathers, big turkey feathers, and tons of gorgeous polka-dotted ones from guinea hens. But I am most content when I find a Nigel feather. For some reason, they are rarely mussed. So perfectly plumed, his feathers are like artwork on a stick--strokes of black on a white canvas with no two alike. I am tempted to just stand there admiring it, but that’s when I feel him. Watching me. Incensed now that I have one of his.

I look ... left ... right ... ahead ... behind! Then I spot him, stepping out from the tree line toward me, picking up speed. There’s that instant of recognition-requiring-response which causes an infinitesimal moment of paralysis that lasts an eternity when something fierce is heading your way. Finally, although it took less than a second and despite the fact that I have a big stick in my hand, I am running. Around the house to the front porch. Screaming, calling Jerry (although it sounds a lot like screaming), praying one of the dogs will jump out and save me. I slip on some bird poo and nearly give Nigel a prone target before securing my footing and slamming into the screen door. Yank! I’m in. I’m safe.

Nigel crows and struts by with a look I read as, There’s always tomorrow, sweetheart.

Once in the house, I catch my breath, relax, and transfer my beautiful feathers to the overstuffed baggies. As adrenaline wanes, I awaken to a new sensation. Then, I take out an icepack from the freezer and set it on my thigh as I lower myself to the sofa. Pulled a muscle slipping on that dang bird poo. Might be a few days before I can get back out there.

This is my life. This is our way, me and my nemesis. I got another showpiece feather from my scary but still favorite bird, but Nigel got a little revenge this time around.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Please Let It Be a Frog

We have a frog in our office vent. Now, I like frogs, but not when they’re croaking at me from some unseen location. Then it’s more like a stalker, like a creeper. Here’s the thing ... we think it’s a frog. I first heard the loud, fire-alarmy sound while on the phone with my mother. She heard it too and asked, “What’s that?” I looked at the far wall, a mere eight feet away, and hoped Jerry’d rigged up some buzzer system to remind him to turn off the grow light. Please, God, let it be a frog and not some psycho cicada or rare hissing snake.

My imagination is my worst enemy in such situations. I don’t watch horror movies, but in my mind I’ve created such a terrifying creature that I will not describe it. I’ve never seen anything this scary in film, except maybe for that hand-eye anorexic beast from Pan’s Labyrinth. Heinous! Anywho, whenever I hear the call of the creature in our vent (please, God, let it be in the vent and not hiding behind my desk or the trash can waiting to latch a squishy tentacle onto my ankle or sink a fang into my flesh!), I run out of the office. My computer’s in there, so, of course, I return, feeling brave and rather like a contestant on Fear Factor. Okay, I keep looking around, making sure nothing’s slithering toward me. As I said, I like frogs, but I don’t want them touching me.

Jerry’s quite enjoying our mysterious office guest. But even he stands still and stares when its loud bellow commands our attention. LOUD! What could be so loud and still remain hidden? Frog sounds like a good guess. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see ... or not. The siren-cry could simply stop and remain a mystery forever. Please God...

My Garden

Genesis 3:8 includes these words: “the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” That beautiful image suggests how God interacted with and appreciated His creation (the garden, the coolness, and the day). I imagine Him traipsing leisurely, as I do through our pasture in the crisp mornings, soaking in sunshine that’s only beginning to fall on the dew-drenched grass. Quiet, peaceful, glorious. This image of God runs through my head as I walk the paths Jerry cut in our yard with the riding mower. And then there’s how the critters add to the landscape ...

As I’ve shared before, Jerry and I name things: animals, tools, vehicles, etc. We’ve named more chickens than any other animal, and when the hatchery sent them to us as day-old chicks, they, like the critters on Noah’s Ark, came in pairs. The deep orangey red ones are Ginger and Skinny Ginger, the tans are Carmen and Carmello, the Australian black ones are Sheila and Claire (any Lost fans out there?), and the rock-star looking black & white bloaks are Nigel and Nancy. We’ve named one of the 16 turkeys and one of our six ducks. My Pride & Prejudice addiction convinced Jer to name the head turk Mr. Collins and the male duck Mr. Darcy. We’re considering Lady Catherine for one of the female turkeys, but it’s hard to tell them apart.

Since the grisly demise of Smokey (a.k.a. Jean Gray), our pretty gray chicken, not long ago, we’ve kept a keener eye--and louder voice--on our dogs, the likely culprits (we thought Harley did it, but now we’re not sure; could’ve been Bear or even the neighbor’s dog, although unlikely). Death is a part of life and loss as inevitable with animals as with human. But it brought a measure of unrest to my spirit. What could we do other than pray and try to train the dogs NOT to eat our birds?

I can only imagine the Garden of Eden, how God created all the creatures to dwell harmoniously. By the grace of God, it feels like that here again. The other day, we left Harley outside with the chickens and ducks for five hours while we caught a movie, and accounted for them all upon our return. (Bear still falls for our “here’s a snack” trick that gets him in the house.) The last few evenings Jer decided not to shut up the turkeys in their cage, and they settled down for the night by the rocks just beyond our front porch. Both our dogs also slept out there, elsewhere in the lawn yet very nearby. Thank God, we still have 16 turkeys.

The turkeys used to bully the other birds when we first let them roam, but even they’ve settled down, striding around unpuffed, keeping their spiked heels grounded. They peck at the grass, happily hiccupping all around the garden, trying to slip into the open duck pen to eat their food. Nigel challenged the turkeys once, but quickly retreated and has since kept his peace. The dogs lay calmly in the grass all day--and night--with birds all around them. No one’s fighting. No one’s biting off chicken heads. God has restored harmony ... in my “garden” and in my heart.

Now, if only we could train the turks not to poop on the porch.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Heart of Spring

It is literally April in Tennessee (and everywhere else, for that matter). Jerry and I are coming up on our one-year anniversary here, so we've witnessed the progression of all the seasons. Plants are filling out, leaves returning, and I can't help feeling giddy, as if all this lush greenery overflows from the heart of God. It feels like the land itself is stretching, expanding, expressing its joy.

We have healed here. We have emerged from exhaustion and stepped into an existence of moles and wild turkeys and ticks. It is nothing to slow one's car for a turtle or a moseying dog lingering or actually sprawled lazily in the road. I'm liable to call bees "Buicks" here, for some seem that large. One stung me in the neck on Easter Sunday (thank God I'm not allergic), and although I'm not mad at these flying behemoths, I am far more retreat-ready around them.

Jerry and I have more than 70 birds (chickens, turkeys, ducks), two rabbits, plus our two cats & two dogs ... a menagerie, my mom says. We have one less today, as Harley, our eight-month-old dog, killed an ate the head of Smokey, our beautiful gray chicken. (We also called her Jean Gray, after Famke's X-Men character). Jerry keeps telling me death is part of farm life, but I had hoped our menagerie could live in harmony--cats and dogs and delicious birds all frolicking together like in the Garden of Eden. That's the city girl in me, I guess. But I'm learning.

I so appreciate this place. I see God everywhere, and as its beauty fills me, I delight in His creation. For me it's a classroom, teaching me how things are here in the wild (it's less wild than real wild, but far wilder than Chicago or Kalamazoo). I understand and am beginning to accept that I'll see change, growth, and even death. From bee stings and heat stroke and picking ticks from the dogs to garden-fresh vegetables, mountain views, and deer in the forest, this is my life. Not perfect, but beautiful, challenging, and amazingly peaceful. It is home.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Farm Stunts

Jerry & I love to name stuff, that is ... give inanimate objects names. My car is C.C. (Chevy Cavalier), Jer's truck is Austen (I once called it ostentatious), we named our land Bountiful (although products from it will be sold as Bubba's Bounty), and our utility wagon is Brownie (well, it is brown).

I was rolling Brownie down our hilly side yard yesterday after a HARD day of driveway fixing (barely made a dent!) and tree planting (2 cherry trees, 2 apple trees ... oh yeah!). Now, the wagon's got some weight to it, so it started pushing me faster down the slope and things soon got outta control. I knew I was gonna fall, so when I hit and saw Brownie barreling down on me, I started rolling (I wanted to write James Bond style, but Jer said it looked more like Jackie Chan ... who is also cool) and narrowly avoided skeletal rearrangement. It was awesome!